More projects related to the Central Delaware Master Plan in the works

Work is underway on a zoning overlay for the Central Delaware waterfront, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation Planning Director Sarah Thorp said.

Thorp told members of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group at their recent meeting that she has been working with Eva Gladstein, executive director of the city’s zoning code commission, and that Gladstein has “done an outline of different elements in the master plan that need to go into an overlay.” The planning commission will be working on this overlay over the next month, and Thorp said she hopes to have a rough draft for CDAG’s review sometime in January.

CDAG, which advocates for the public’s vision for the riverfront, has been concerned that the zoning that codifies what the master plan calls for would not be done quickly enough. Thorp said DRWC is also eager to have the zoning aspects done. The overlay goes “hand-in-hand” with the zoning remapping, Thorp said. Remapping is the act of actually applying various types of zoning classifications to specific parcels of land, creating the base zoning.  “The whole theory of the zoning portion of the master plan is that the base zoning controls most things,” she said.

“It is very critical the waterfront get remapped in the next six months,” she said. “We’re going to be working with the planning commission on that, too.”

Until the new zoning is in place, the current overlay remains.

While finished, the Master Plan itself has not yet been approved by the Planning Commission. Commissioners responded favorable during an information-only session, however. And a vote is tentatively scheduled for the Jan. 17 meeting, Thorp said.

Even before the Central Delaware master plan team was finished writing, work had begun on some early action projects. Thorp gave updates on some of them, and revealed some of what’s in the pipeline.

Planning work has begun on a project to better connect Fishtown to the riverfront at Penn Treaty Park, along Columbia Avenue. Building better connections from neighborhoods to the waterfront is central to the master plan’s vision. The Race Street Connector – the south side of which is finished, with planning for the north half underway – came first.

A chance to work together with PennDOT, which is redoing the Columbia Avenue underpass as part of its Revive 95 project, prompted DRWC to target that street next, Thorp said. Design work must be given to PennDOT by the end of February, Thorp said. Studio Bryan Hanes, which did a master plan for Penn Treaty Park, has been hired to do the design work. DRWC also asked the design firm to look at lighting and other basic improvements for secondary underpasses at Marlborough and Shackamaxon streets, which are also part of the PennDOT project, Thorp said.

The next connector street project is set for Spring Garden Street, Thorp said, noting that improvements to that street would fit well with the work Northern Liberties Neighbors Association and other organizations are doing, and DRWC’s plans for improvements at the Festival Pier site, at the foot of Spring Garden. Thorp said she had recently been to a meeting on Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s Spring Garden Greenway project, for example. “There’s a lot of energy around Spring Garden, and a lot of resources that we think could be pooled to really make a difference in that stretch of Spring Garden, between 2nd and Delaware Avenue.”

DRWC will be working on an RFP for the design of the Spring Garden connector this month and next, Thorp said, and it should be issued in January or February.

Additionally, a grant from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and help from SugarHouse Casino will also connect Spring Garden with the SugarHouse portion of the waterfront trail, which planners hope will eventually stretch along the entire length of the Central Delaware.  This Penn Street portion of the trail “will go to construction in May or June,” Thorp said.

Thorp revealed some additional waterfront trail and connector improvements in South Philadelphia.

The waterfront Walmart is expanding, she said. Zoning requires the Walmart to create additional parking behind the store, but it is not expected to be heavily used. DRWC worked with Walmart to negotiate a right-of-way easement so that people coming from Tasker Street can use the right of way to easily get to the portion of the trail behind the Walmart, Thorp said. The organization is also working with the Walmart Foundation, in hopes of getting money to clean up the riverfront in that area.

DRWC members asked if something could be done to also improve the safety of people crossing Columbus Boulevard at Tasker. “When you talk to (Walmart), can you ask them if there is anything they can do to make it more pedestrian friendly?” asked Pennsport resident Rene Goodwin, who said the passage seems especially treacherous for folks pushing baby strollers.  “Somebody is liable to get hurt,” echoed Tom Otto, another Pennsport resident.

Mary Stumpf, who represents Neighbors Allied for the Best Riverfront on the CDAG board, said maybe the city streets department could be persuaded to make sidewalk improvements.

“I hesitate to say this, but Tasker Street is one of the streets we’re thinking about for the next connector project,” Thorp said. Next would mean after Spring Garden, she said.

In the meantime “It’s on our radar,” Thorp said. Chairman Steve Weixler said that it seems wise not to invest in any major waterfront improvements unless they are permanent ones – a sentiment also expressed by DRWC board members at a recent meeting.

“There are low-cost things that we can do,” Thorp said. “I hear you that it’s a terrible street.”

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com.

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